But it’s only now that Clarke is in the process of trying to win community support.
Early this month, his office mailed out 86-page packets to the owners of the 2,600 properties that could be subject to the NID tax, along with a bright-pink invitation to a March 6 community meeting.
“We received about 15 calls from people with questions about the mailing and NID and who want to speak at the meeting,” says Nick Pizzola, a member of the steering committee and a landlord who manages 15 properties in North Central. He adds that VanStory, who is scheduled to be the first to speak, is the “only one who says she’s not in favor of it. We’re not gonna buy her support, that’s not how we do business. But we’re pushing to have her on our side.”
VanStory credits the bill for excluding single-family owned and occupied houses—which she says is necessary in a low-income neighborhood—but doesn’t want her neighborhood to be tossed around like a political football. She says the creation of the NCNID formed without community input outweighs its potential good. “I’ve been living in North Philadelphia since 1959. But do you think they asked what I thought, or if the Land Trust could participate?” she asks. “You don’t have to tell me what’s good in my neighborhood.”
But Pizzola says that he, like VanStory, is a concerned landlord who’s “volunteering because I want to make sure the purpose complies with its mandate … She’s an activist, I give her that, but I don’t know who Vivian VanStory is. I’m not gonna trust my money with her.”
VanStory says the same of the steering committee and the people who would sit on the Board of Directors. According to the bylaws, someone from Clarke’s office must sit on the board. But, “the [executive] director does not need to be a resident of PA,” meaning that he or she could potentially live on the other side of the country and dictate where the money goes. In fact, the only requirement stated is that the executive director—who would be paid about $75,000 a year, roughly 17 percent of the NCNID’s budget—must be at least 18. The bylaws are also vague about the compensation for the rest of the board members, saying only that, essentially, they can determine their own salaries without oversight.
“If they care about the neighborhood and not just controlling the money, they’d be inclusive of the entire neighborhood from the beginning,” she says. “Not two years later after private meetings.”
However, it’s too late to be on the committee; all nine slots were quietly filled shortly after a group of landlords approached Clarke in January 2010. When asked why a fancy invitation wasn’t sent to all landlords and businesses in the area about serving on the steering committee like the 86 pages of the bill, Pizzola says: “To send out a mailing to the community and say, ‘Let’s see who wants to join us’ doesn’t make sense. To make a mailing costs $2,300.”
Still, Pizzola says there’s plenty of time to defeat the bill. After the community meeting, City Council will host two public hearings, the first on March 13 and the second about a month later. After that, opponents will have 45 days to come up with enough votes to kill the NID.
“This is America, we vote on things,” Pizzola says.
The steering committee is a self appointed group of developers seeking power from the city to tax and to place liens on property owners who fail to pay the tax to them. This is not a voluntary association; it is empowered by the city to collect taxes on every property owner as defined by the steering committee whether they agree or not with the NID.
The law in question is the 2004 “Yorktown Special District Controls” ordinance, written specifically for the North Central section of the city. The law holds, after years of tensions between students and neighbors, that Temple kids simply aren’t allowed to live in certain areas of North Central.